Road trips don’t need to end when the seasons change. Winter actually has its perks for hitting the open road: exploring top destinations during the off-season can mean practically having the place to yourself. We’ve gathered four road trip ideas that revolve around warmer climes, with a mixture of winter-friendly cities and outdoor adventures throughout the southern United States.
1. Southern California: Coastal Cities and Desert Oasis
Starting Point: Santa Barbara & the Santa Ynez Mountains
Experience the laid-back side of Southern California in Santa Barbara, a decidedly scenic city nestled between the rolling waves of the Pacific and the forested peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Wintertime can be hit or miss for beachgoing weather, but in Santa Barbara, it’s always a good time for wine tasting, bike rides along the coast, and enjoying hot springs.
If you have a few days to spare, catch a ferry from Ventura to one of the country’s most underrated natural wonders: Channel Islands National Park.
Closest KOA: The 76-acre Ventura Ranch KOA is nestled at the foot of Topa Topa, Ventura County’s highest mountain. It’s just off the scenic highway between Santa Paula and Ojai, and visitors there will enjoy the abundant wildlife, gorgeous views, and clear nights for stargazing.
Palm Springs & Joshua Tree National Park
Distance from Santa Barbara: 203 miles
From there, head inland to Palm Springs, a veritable desert oasis known for its top-notch golf courses, shopping, and access to the wild landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. The scenic drive between the park’s West and North Entrance Stations showcases the peculiarities of this dry ecosystem: otherworldly granite rock formations, palm tree oases, and, of course, the seemingly endless rows of towering yuccas known as Joshua trees. For the full desert experience, take a day hike in Joshua Tree or explore the rugged wilderness of nearby Sand to Snow National Monument.
Closest KOA : The Palm Springs / Joshua Tree KOA is just 10 minutes from town and 45 minutes to the entrance of Joshua Tree. Take advantage of the RV sites that are all full hookups, or rent a Deluxe Cabin or tent camping site. After exploring, you can lounge around the pool and three hot-tub spas.
Distance from Palm Springs: 127 miles
This coastal city at the southern tip of California is known for its fun-loving locals and beaches. In the heart of the city, Balboa Park delights with a series of museums, gardens, and a nationally acclaimed zoo. Downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter is the place to go for dining and imbibing, while the scenic walkway through Seaport Village bustles with activity all day long.
Closest KOA : The San Diego Metro KOA is just 20 minutes from downtown and is a top-rated destination for family fun. Get discount tickets for SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park, and Legoland at the front desk on your visit.
2. Southwest: The Road Less Traveled
Starting point: St. George, Utah
While southern Utah is typically blanketed in snow come winter, the charming city of St. George boasts more than 300 days of sunshine a year and scarce rain. The area is an undisputed mecca for year-round outdoor adventures like mountain biking, hiking, ATV riding and—yes—hot air ballooning. Zion National Park is just a short drive away and can delight winter visitors with sparse crowds and unique vistas of snow-covered sandstone.
Closest KOA: At the St. George / Hurricane KOA, you’ll camp amid the spectacular red-rock desert scenery in southern Utah. It’s just minutes away from Quail Creek State Park and the Red Cliffs Recreation Area. Visit the ghost town of Harrisburg or the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Distance from St. George: 268 miles
A winter excursion to the Grand Canyon comes with the potential for waiting out stormy weather, but the reward of seeing this natural wonder with the fewest number of tourist around you make it worth a visit. The South Rim of the park stays open all year and visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the mile-deep canyon from inside the Yavapai Museum of Geology. Continue south towards the bustling mountain city of Flagstaff, where snow often blankets the town, but travelers can rest assured that the nearby KOAs offer deluxe cabin rentals year-round.
Closest KOAs: When visiting the Grand Canyon, campers have two options: the Grand Canyon / Williams KOA Journey and the Flagstaff KOA. The Canyon / Williams property is just a short drive to the South Rim, while the Flagstaff campground is set at 7,000 feet among tall ponderosa pine trees at the base of the San Francisco Peaks.
Distance from Flagstaff: 144 miles
While Phoenix is sweltering in the summer, winter brings comfortable daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s to this cultural and outdoor hotspot. Explore the city’s variety of museums and local events that thrive throughout the winter months, then get acquainted with quintessential Southwestern landscapes by visiting the Desert Botanical Garden or hiking up Camelback Mountain.
Closest KOA: The Mesa / Apache Junction KOA Journey is located in the Superstition Mountains, where giant saguaro cacti rise from the Sonoran Desert floor. It’s a unique setting filled with deep canyons, rugged trails, and pristine lakes. You’re also close enough to explore the cliff-dwelling Indian ruins a the Tonto National Monument.
3. Texas: Slowing Down in Hill Country and Piney Woods
Starting Point: Austin & the Texas Hill Country
Known as the epicenter for hip urbanites in Texas, Austin is well worth a visit during the balmy days of winter. The thriving live music and outdoor recreation scenes don’t slow down this time of year: Locals are still out and about paddling the Colorado River, attending concerts, and biking the city’s numerous greenbelts. Take the time to hike, fish, or paddle in the nearby outdoor havens of McKinney Falls State Park, Bastrop State Park, and Barton Creek Wilderness to fully experience the quiet beauty of the Texas Hill Country.
Closest KOAs : Visitors to the area have two KOAs to choose from: Austin East KOA Holiday and Bastrop / SE Austin / Colorado River KOA Holiday. Both are close to town with swimming pools and plenty of natural places to explore.
Piney Woods: Lake Livingston
Distance from Austin: 181 miles
Texas may be famous for the desert and the plains, but the eastern portion of the state, affectionately called Piney Woods, is dominated by expansive pine and hardwood forests bursting with lakes. Start with some boating and fishing on Lake Livingston, then hike in the surrounding Sam Houston National Forest or drive a bit farther to experience the incredible diversity of life in Big Thicket National Preserve.
Piney Woods: Lake Sam Rayburn
Distance from Lake Livingston: 75 miles
Continue east to Lake Sam Rayburn, the state’s largest lake, where the dense woodlands of Angelina National Forest encircle the calm water. Just on the other side of the town of Brookeland, the sprawling greenery continues in Sabine National Forest. No matter what, be sure to slow down and experience the Southern charm of the friendly small towns peppered throughout Piney Woods.
Closest KOA: The Brookeland / Lake Sam Rayburn KOA sits on 300 acres of oak and pine forests along historical Mill Creek. You’ll enjoy fishing, boating, swimming, canoeing, paddle boating, bird watching, riding ATVs, and hiking in this scenic region.
4. Southeast & Florida: Down the Atlantic Coast
Starting Point: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Well known as a summer destination for East Coasters, Myrtle Beach offers fewer crowds and favorable camping weather in the winter. Savor the quiet coastline before continuing south to Charleston, arguably the Southeast’s best-kept secret for outdoor lovers. Hiking, mountain biking, and road cycling spots around Charleston are often steeped in the same colonial history as the city itself, while the city’s impossible-to-resist Southern cuisine makes for the perfect way to refuel.
Closest KOAs: The Myrtle Beach KOA was established more than 40 years ago, and it’s located in the heart of the city’s attractions. Stay here and you’ll be within walking distance of two amusement/water parks, four miniature golf courses, live music theaters, and more than 40 restaurants. And, of course, the dazzling sand beaches.
Distance from Myrtle Beach: 227 miles
Get lost wandering beneath a canopy of Spanish moss in the historic district of Savannah, home to 22 public squares and parks. Then get out on the water by sea kayaking around nearby Tybee Island, taking a sunset cruise out on the Atlantic or hopping on a charter boat for truly unbeatable inshore and nearshore fishing.
Closest KOA: The Savannah South KOA Holiday features a 35-acre lake on the property, where the fish are always biting. You’ll also share the campground with ibis, blue herons, and egrets, in addition to the swans hand-raised in the campsite.
Florida Coast to The Everglades
Distance from Savannah: 176 miles
Driving Florida’s Atlantic coast is a vacation experience in the truest sense. Walk around the country’s oldest European settlement in St. Augustine, check out the Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge near Titusville, then go fishing off the coast in sunny Ft. Lauderdale.
Round out the Florida experience by visiting Everglades National Park, the country’s largest subtropical wilderness spanning 1.5 million acres of coastal lowlands, cypress swamps, and estuaries. Wildlife viewing in the Everglades offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see alligators, nearly 400 species of bird, manatees, and rare Florida panthers.
Closest KOAs: You’ll have to make several stops along the long Florida coast. The St. Augustine Beach KOA Holiday on Anastasia Island is a great place to stay when exploring the historic city. The Titusville / Kennedy Space Center KOA fits the bill whether you want to visit the Space Center or relax on Cocoa Beach. The theme parks in Orlando are only an hour away as well. For the southern part of the state, the Davie / Ft. Lauderdale KOA offers access both to the Atlantic beaches and the Everglades.
Written by Jenna Herzog for RootsRated Media in partnership with Kampgrounds of America.